KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 18 — Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob has sought to explain his state’s perceived inaction over the bauxite mining crisis there, insisting that his administration was doing all it can against the environmental menace.
In an interview published by the New Straits Times today, Adnan said state enforcement officers have not arrested a single illegal miner because they ran away during raids or conducted their activities in the middle of the night.
Adnan also said the state has inadequate resources to halt the lucrative illegal bauxite mining that has since snowballed into a major pollution and health problem, pointing out that Pahang only has 18 enforcement officers under the Land and Mines Office (PTG) to oversee the entire state and was only able to implement round-the-clock checks for two months.
“The state lacks manpower, with federal assistance, enforcement is effective. It is not that we procrastinated or delayed (enforcement) but it was just beyond our capacity.
“When we fully enforced with our limited resources for two months, the result was positive at first… then slowly we saw the repercussions. We even lost one of our PTG officers who died in an accident after his shift ended at 2am,” he said in the interview .
Asked about the Pahang state government’s relative inaction on the bauxite mining problems, Adnan said he did not want to “play the blame game” but noted that all enforcement agencies except for the PTG fell under the federal government’s jurisdiction.
He said that he had initially not sought the federal government’s help as he wanted the state government to solve the issue on its own capacity, but the problem was “just so big” and could not be controlled as industry players ignored the state’s advice and law enforcement.
“The delay (in enforcement) was not really intended but it was just beyond us… luckily the Federal Government decided to assist us in the form of the moratorium. Hopefully, we can together come up with a new set of rules and regulations to regularise bauxite mining,” said Adnan, referring to a minimum three-month ban against bauxite mining in Pahang.
Adnan said that current law means that enforcement action can be taken under the National Land Code for illegal bauxite mines on private land, while Pahang can only raid illegal mines that are on state land.
“If it is on state land, we can just raid the area but in most instances, when we go on raid the operators run away. In a way, it sounds odd that you can’t take action against the illegal miners because they run away, but that is really the case,” he said, adding that Pahang may probably seek to arrest the culprits together with the aid of police and other agencies.
Pressed on the impossibility for the state authorities to have missed the existence of over 200 illegal bauxite mines there, Adnan cited the example of Bukit Goh where miners went ahead with their activities despite being told to first obtain the approval of Felda and the state.
Using this example, he acknowledged that the state had “failed somewhere along the chain” and that some parties must have been “compromised” as the problem would otherwise have come under control.
“I know the question is...it is simple, the lorries are coming in and out, so where are the relevant agencies? On our part, what can we do? They dig at night. Operations by these illegal miners start at 1am and they leave at 4am,” Adnan said, later saying that he himself was puzzled over how illegal mining continued unhidden at Bukit Goh next to the highway until a moratorium was declared.
State PTG director Datuk Nazri Abu Bakar, who was also present at the interview, said however that enforcement officers had seized 51 lorries, 30 excavators and one giant tipper dumper.
“What these illegal miners did was simple, they came, piled the minerals in their lorries and left. They have tontos all over and moved faster than we could. By the time we reached (illegal mines), there was nobody there. So we seized what we could. If you talk about sealing off these lands, it means the officers we have with us will man the place round the clock,” Nazri was quoted saying.
During the interview, Adnan said that the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and the Federal Government will have the say on what happens if industry players do not comply and the situation does not improve after the end of the three-month moratorium on bauxite mining.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has arrested and prosecuted several Pahang Land and Mine Office workers for allegedly receiving bribes to ignore the illegal mining.
Putrajaya previously announced a three-month moratorium on bauxite mining in Pahang from January 15, amid concerns over the health and environmental impact of the mining industry for the aluminium ingredient.